By Frank Rizzo
It’s never too late to be an artist.
For Marjorie Miner, it started in her mid-60s when she moved to Long Island to be with her second husband, Walter Miner.
“I didn’t know anybody there so I went to a senior citizen center to meet people and to keep busy,” she says over lunch at Hamden’s Whitney Center.
She took a sculpting class and it became a life-changer. Miner, who turns 101 in July, has been at it ever since.
“I fell in love with sculpting just like that. All of a sudden I knew I could sculpt. I don’t know why. Maybe it was working with my hands. It takes me out of myself. It’s part of my soul.”
When she was 82, she and her husband (who died in 2008 at 98) relocated to Whitney Center where she has lived for 18 years. “I love it here,” says the mother of three grown sons, the oldest being 73, but points out she isn’t the resident with the most tenure nor is she the oldest resident.
“Oh, there are about five people here who are more than 100 years old. It’s amazing. Why do we live so long?”
When she arrived at Whitney Center she couldn’t find anyone to fire her clay works. Maishe Dickman, an artist who has a studio and kiln in downtown New Haven, was her last hope. It also began a long-lasting friendship.
“She’s a one of a kind,” says Dickman, 68, who is also an exhibits technician at New Haven’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. “I don’t know any other person, young or old, who sculpts their heart out the way she does.”
Dickman estimates that he’s fired several thousands of pieces for her over the years, assisted by his associate Sharon Trivelli.
“I would say Marjorie is more prolific now than ever,” says Dickman. “But she could tell you an exact number because she still keeps a meticulous record of every piece.”
Dickman describes Miner’s style as being in the “folk art” or “outsider art” tradition.
“She would probably come over here and spank me, but I call her ‘the Grandma Moses of clay.’ “
“I don’t have any particular style,” she says of her works which range from the whimsical to the figurative. “It has to do with my mood and what I feel inside that day. Sometimes I feel in my fingers that I can’t wait to do it.”
Miner says she’ll sculpt anything, working from photographs. “I’ll do people or animals. I’ve done about five Buddhas. I don’t know why I like Buddhas. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of people and painting the pieces gold.” She laughs. “This is my gold period.”
She says she’s not interested in books of sculpture or exhibits, nor do other artistic expressions such as painting or drawing interest her.
“I think it’s the physical act of working with my hands,” she says. “Painting just isn’t the same thing.”
She works about 2 1/2 hours a session, about three times a week. A practical woman, she notes that “I’m wasting my time to do more if Maishe isn’t firing.”
“I just do what I feel but you also have to learn when to quit and say, ‘That’s it.’ All of a sudden the work tells you when it’s finished.”
Dickman believes Miner’s love of sculpting is one of the reasons for her longevity.
“No doubt about it,” he says. “She has promised people sculptures and she has deadlines and commitments. It’s keeping her sharp, enthused and alive. She’s one of those rare people who just thoroughly enjoys life, someone who is always excited about what’s coming next.”